John E Bibby, "The Party Battle in America," excerpted from chapter 2 of
Politics, Parties, and Elections in America, 3d ed. (Chicago: Nelson-Hall,
1996), pp. 22-36. Reprinted with permission of Nelson-Hall Publishers.
(Footnotes omitted.) In “Documents and Readings for American Government”
Brian Fife, Worth Publishing
Such misgivings about parties have remained a persistent element of the American political culture. Early in the twentieth century, when party conflict had been institutionalized, progressive reformers succeeded in imposing upon parties severe regulations which have stripped them of such functions as control of the nominating process. In the 1970s, Congress passed legislation that aided their rivals the political action committees. A strong strain of apprehension and dissatisfaction concerning the role of political parties continues to flourish among the citizenry. A mid- 1990s NBC/Wall Street Journal poll found that by a 54 to 36 percent margin, Americans preferred to have the presidency and Congress controlled by different parties. And in a 1992 Washington Post survey, 82 percent of the respondents agreed with the statement that "both American political parties are pretty much out of touch with the American people." Thus from the beginning of the Republic to the present, political parties have functioned in an environment that is not altogether hospitable. American parties may have evolved into durable institutions that command substantial numbers of adherents, but the public retains a feeling of distrust, or at least suspicion.[The Spirit of party] serves always to distract the Public Councils and enfeeble the Public administration. It agitates the Community with ill founded jealousies and false alarms, kindles the animosity of one party against another, foments occasional riot and insurrection. It opens the door to foreign influence and corruption, which find a facilitated access to the government itself through the channels of party passions....
The First Party System 1788-1824: Federalists, Republicans, and One Party Factionalism
American parties were born in the policy conflict between Hamilton and Jefferson during the Washington administration. As their disputes intensified, each turned to his supporters within the Congress, and factional alliances between leaders of the executive and legislative branches developed. The emerging parties, therefore, developed out of national divisions, not state politics. It was, however, the Jeffersonians who first sought to broaden their operations beyond the nation's capital by endorsing candidates for Congress and presidential elector. Later they developed slates of candidates for state offices. The Federalists, led by Hamilton and Adams, were forced to follow suit and compete for support within the mass electorate. The Federalists, however, were reluctant party organizers whose initial reaction to the party organizing activities of Jefferson's Democratic-Republicans was to bemoan their rivals' appeals to the public. As Hamilton noted, the Federalists "erred in relying so much on the rectitude and utility of their measures as to have neglected the cultivation of popular favor by fair and justifiable expedients." Historians are in general agreement that the dramatic extension of party organizations at the local level in the election of 1800 and the aggressive organizing of the Democratic-Republicans in support of Jefferson contributed to his election over John Adams. The nomination of presidential candidates by party caucuses in Congress is further evidence of the emergence of party organizations.
The Federalists were advocates of a positive national government capable of nation building and the protection of American business interests. In foreign affairs, they
sided with the British against the revolutionary regime of France. In terms of electoral bases of support, the Federalists tended to be the established leadership strata in most of the states, while their challengers were Jeffersonians. Federalists were distinguished by being persons of old wealth, respectable occupations, and higher levels of formal education. By contrast, the Democratic-Republicans tended to draw support from less elite elements of society. They were fearful of the strong national government emerging under the Federalists and were protectors of agricultural interests. They were aligned with the French in foreign affairs.
Federalist electoral support suffered a precipitous decline after their defeat in 1800. This decline is related to their failure, as the party of the American elite, to respond in as timely a manner as the Democratic-Republicans to the popular and democratic style of politics that was developing. After 1816, the Federalists disappeared as a national political party capable of contesting for the presidency and competed only in a few states such as Massachusetts and Delaware. The Jeffersonians were triumphant and the first era of partisan competition was over. The "Era of Good Feeling" which followed was a period of partyless politics characterized by factionalism among leaders all of whom claimed to be Republicans. Since all elected officials belonged to one party, it was impossible for President James Monroe to exercise any party discipline over Congress and coherent action by Congress became impossible to achieve.
the dominant Democratic-Republican party led to the collapse of the congressional
caucus system of presidential nominations. Since there was no opposition
party, the winner of the caucus nomination was assured of election. The
congressional caucus, however, had never been popular. It was seen more
and more as an undemocratic device as the franchise was extended to all
white males due to the dropping of property owning restrictions on voting
by the states. In 1824, when the congressional caucus nominated William
Crawford for president, it was inevitable that other ambitious politicians
would challenge Crawford in the general election. The 1824 election became
a four way contest between Crawford, John Quincy Adams, Andrew Jackson,
and Henry Clay. As a result, no candidate received a majority in the electoral
college. The House of Representatives, after much bickering and maneuvering,
finally chose Adams. His administration was characterized by intense intraparty
conflict between his followers and those of Jackson. The
"Era of Good Feeling" was at an end and the expanded electorate stood ready for political mobilization by political parties.
As Everett Carll Ladd has noted, this First Party System was differentiated from those which have followed by the fact that neither Federalists nor Democratic-Republicans were born into families with these affiliations. There were no traditional party loyalties upon which to build electoral support and sustain parties. Political activists had not had their party identification passed on to them by parents and friends through reinforcing patterns of interaction.
The Second Party System, 1828-1854: Democrats versus Whigs in Two Party Competitive Politics... The absence of inherited loyalties in the new party system of the first period, together with the rudimentary character of party organization and the prevailing tendency to see party as, at best, a necessary evil, made the new party growth relatively superficial. The roots of party simply did not run deep.
Andrew Jackson, the popular hero of the Battle of New Orleans, defeated Adams in 1828 and gained reelection over Clay in 1832. These elections were fought in a transitional era of bifactional politics within the dominant Democratic-Republican party. Jackson and Adams in 1828 both used variations on the Republican name as their party labels as did Clay in 1832, when Jackson switched to the Democratic label. By 1834 the amalgam of forces and groups opposed to Jackson's policies had coalesced sufficiently to form an opposition party, the Whigs. An era of unusually close two party competition followed.
This Second Party System came into being during a period when American political life was democratized; slates of presidential electors were popularly elected; property qualifications for voting were dropped; and electoral participation increased dramatically. For example, voter turnout increased from 26.9 percent of eligible voters in 1824 to 78.9 percent in 1848. Party nominating procedures were also opened to wider participation as the congressional caucus was replaced by the national convention.
In the two decades that followed Jackson's reelection in 1832, the Whigs and Democrats were engaged in an intense struggle for the newly expanded electorate. They engaged in popularized campaigning, torchlight parades, rallies, picnics, campaign songs, and slogans like "Tippecanoe and Tyler too." Both parties organized state and local parties and ran full slates of candidates under a party label. In this atmosphere of partisan mobilization, voters began to see themselves as either Whigs or Democrats. Unlike the Federalists, who had been reluctant to court popular support, the Whigs did so with zeal. As the national minority party, one of their favorite techniques was to run military heroes with an appeal above party for president. They did this in four of six elections and were successful twice-in 1840 with William Henry Harrison and in 1848 with Zachary Taylor. In nine of eleven elections, however, the majority Democrats won control of the Congress.
Both the Democrats and the Whigs were truly national parties which engaged in relatively close competition not only at the national level but also in each region and in most states. For example, such old bastions of Jefferson's as Georgia, North Carolina, Louisiana, and Tennessee divided their support quite evenly between the Whigs and Democrats as did the Middle Atlantic states. Ladd has observed that in the 1836-1852 period, the "United States had less regional variation in voting than at any other time in history." This lack of sectionalism in American politics was a tribute to the skills of Democratic and Whig leaders in balancing the interests of farmers, manufacturing and mercantile interests, nativists, immigrants, Catholics, and Protestants. Both parties were broad coalitions which sought backing throughout the country, with the Whigs attracting proportionately more support from manufacturing and trading interests, planners, and old Protestant stock, while the Democrats did well among newly enfranchised voters, western farmers, Catholics, and new immigrants.
The absence of highly salient issues that might have divided the nation along sectional lines also contributed to the ability of the two parties to compete in all regions. However, when the racial and slavery issues reached crisis proportions in the 1850s, the Whigs and Democrats were confronted with a nation divided along sectional lines. This national schism was reflected in the parties which split on a North-South axis because neither was able to satisfy both regions. America then entered its Third Party System.
The Third Party System, 1856-1896: Ascendant Republicans versus Democrats
Culturally and economically the South became increasingly distinct from the rest of the nation during the 1840s and 1850s. While abolitionist sentiment gained support in the North, demonstrating the force of a compelling moral issue, the South continued to harbor the institution of slavery. In addition, the two regions' economies were developing quite differently. The South concentrated almost exclusively on agriculture, especially cotton, while the North was becoming more industrial, urban, and mixed in its ethnic composition. In addition, the population and wealth of the North were growing at a much more rapid rate than those of the South. These economic and cultural differences inevitably led to political conflicts over the direction of national policy. The sectional rivalries created by those differences came into their sharpest conflict because of the ceaseless westward expansion of the nation. Western settlement required the Congress and the parties to confront the issues of whether slavery would be permitted in the territories and whether the new states would be admitted as slave or free states. Any change in the number of free and slave states threatened to upset the delicate balance of power in the national government. Both the Whigs and Democrats were unable to reconcile the sectional conflicts within their ranks and as a result the electorate went through a major realignment in the 1850s and 1860s.
The Democrats' situation was made difficult by the powerful position occupied by its southern wing. In Congress, the Democrats were dominated by southerners de
7.2 "The Party Battle in America" (1996) 81
termined to maintain the institution of slavery and protect the political position of the South by insisting that the balance of free and slave states not be upset when new states were admitted to the Union. The South was also strengthened by the two thirds rule used by the Democratic national nominating conventions. This procedure guaranteed the South a veto over the selection of presidential nominees. As a result, the party could only agree to nominate weak "neutralist" or "doughface" candidates like Franklin Pierce (1852) and James Buchanan (1856). With weak presidents and a southern led Congress, it was not possible for the government to resolve the slavery issue.
In the midst of this sectional turmoil over the extension of slavery, the Whig party dissolved. The Whigs had traditionally been the party of national integration and accommodation between the North and South. But with the intensification of northern hostility toward slavery and heightened sectional sentiments in the South, the Whigs' position was undermined in both regions. Faced with declining electoral support, a schism between its northern and southern wings, and the emergence of the antislavery Republican party in the North, the Whig party ceased to be a major electoral force after the elections of 1854.
There was a transition period toward two party competition between the Republicans and Democrats between 1854 and 1860. In the presidential election of 1856, the new Republican party composed of abolitionists, Free Soilers, and dissident northern Whigs and Democrats came in second to Democrats, as James Buchanan defeated General John C. Fremont. The remaining Whigs nominated former President Millard Fillmore under the American party banner and came in a dismal third. No candidate received a majority of the popular vote. The deterioration of the old party system continued in 1860. In the North, the election was a contest between the nominee of Northern Democrats, Stephen A. Douglas, and former Whig, Abraham Lincoln, the Republican nominee; while in the South, southern Democrat John C. Breckenridge contested a former southern Whig, John Bell. Again, no candidate received a popular vote majority, though Lincoln was able to gain 59.4 percent of the electoral vote with 39.8 percent of the popular vote.
The period of 1864-1874 was a period of Republican dominance. The successful prosecution of the Civil War identified the GOP with the Union, patriotism, and humanitarianism. But Republican strength did not rest on emotionalism alone. The party forged an alliance of farmers through the Homestead Act and free land in the West, business and labor through support for a high protective tariff, entrepreneurs through federal land grants to build transcontinental railroads linking the West and North (and bypassing the South), and veterans through pensions. By imposing Reconstruction upon the South, the post-Civil War Radical Republicans in Congress sought to control the South through black votes and the support of carpetbaggers. Both parties were sectional parties. The GOP was dominant in the North and West, but it had little popular support in the South. The Democrats, by contrast, were a southern based party. The party's addiction to free trade did, however, give it some northern business allies among those who shared its views on trade. In addition, the Democrats gained substantial support among Roman Catholic immigrants in cities of the North. After 1874 and the end of Reconstruction, the Republicans and Democrats started to compete on a more even basis up until 1896. They alternated control of the presidency and Congress, but the post-Civil War period was primarily an era of Republican dominance in national political life.
In addition to the disappearance of the Whigs and the emergence of the Republicans as the dominant political party, two other significant developments came from the era of the Third Party System. One was the growth, particularly in the middle Atlantic and some midwestern states and cities, of patronage based party organizations or machines that were extremely effective in controlling nominations and mobilizing party votes on election day. Ironically, the Third Party System was also the era that ushered in the party machine weakening reform of the Australian ballot (ballots printed at government expense instead of party printed ballots, and provision for casting one's vote in secret). The Australian ballot movement gave the voter new independence from parties in making electoral choices. It was no longer public knowledge how people voted and using government provided ballots made it easier for citizens to split their ballots and vote for candidates of differing parties.
The Fourth Party System, 1896-1928: Republican Dominance Renewed
The period following the Civil War was a period of immense social and economic change with far-reaching consequences for electoral politics. It was a time when the United States ceased to be a primarily agrarian society and became an industrialized and urban nation. By 1890 more people were employed in manufacturing than in agriculture, and by the end of the 1920s only one family in four was involved in agriculture. On the eve of the Civil War, no American city had contained a million people, but by the close of the 1920s cities with a population in excess of a million inhabitants were becoming commonplace-New York, Chicago, Philadelphia, and Los Angeles. Transportation advances, like the completion of the great transcontinental railroads, linked the East and West and made the nation more interdependent. Rail mileage grew from 8,500 in 1850 to 193,000 in 1900. This was also the era of the rise of the corporation-mammoth enterprises like Standard Oil and U.S. Steel. The ethnic makeup of the population also changed as waves of immigrants entered the country from non-English-speaking nations of Europe.
The economic and
social revolution that was transforming America posed new problems for
the political system. Radical agrarian movements swept the nation (e.g.,
the Grangers Farmers' Alliance, and Greenbackers). Third party movements
also formed. The most significant was the People's party (Populist), which
in 1892 garnered over one million votes and twenty-two electoral votes
on a radical platform that demanded the inflation of the currency through
unlimited coinage of silver, nationalization of railroads and telephone/telegraph
companies, and instituting
an income tax. These movements reflected the economic dislocations that were occurring and agrarian discontent with the growing power of corporations and the frequently depressed state of the farm economy. The late 1800s also witnessed the rise of labor organizations which mirrored the discontent of urban workers with their status in the new industrial order.
Neither the dominant Republicans nor the "me too" Democrats were responsive initially to these popular protest movements. In 1896, however, the forces of agrarian radicalism captured the Democratic presidential nomination for William Jennings Bryan, whose platform was a challenge to the existing industrial order. A key plank in the Democrats' platform was a call for free and unlimited coinage of silver and gold at a ratio of sixteen to one. In adopting this position, the Democrats appropriated the
"The Party Battle in America" (1996) 83
principal program of the Populists and made a dramatic appeal to farmers, debtors, and western mining interests. The Democrats were also the party of a low tariff.
Seeking to bolster their post-Civil War coalition, the Republicans countered by advocating the gold standard and opposition to the inflationary free coinage of silver; and they maintained their position as the party of the high protective tariff. Their stand on the silver issue cost them the support of western states, but the high protective tariff position brought them renewed support among urban workers, who blamed the depression of the 1890s on the low tariff policies of the Democratic Cleveland administration. William McKinley, the Republican candidate, was able to run on the themes of "Prosperity Sound Money Good Markets and Employment for Labor-A Full Dinner Bucket." Mark Hanna, the Ohio industrialist and skilled Republican campaign manager, also mobilized business interests terrified by Bryan and his policies to give generous and overwhelming support to the GOP issue.
The election of 1896 transformed the political landscape and realigned the electorate. The Republican coalition forged during and after the Civil War received an infusion of support, especially among urban dwellers of the Northeast. McKinley carried the nation's ten largest cities and increased the GOP vote in working, middle, and upper class wards. Bryan was the sectional candidate of the agrarian South, the Plains, the silver mining states of the West. He had little appeal to the industrializing East and Middle West, where the bulk of the population and electoral votes were located. V. 0. Key has observed that the Democratic loss of 1896 "was so demoralizing and so thorough that the party made little headway in regrouping its forces until 1916." Indeed, the Democrats elected only one president in the period between 1896 and 1928, and Woodrow Wilson's 1912 election was possible only because of a major schism within the dominant Republican coalition.
In that year, the festering internal Republican conflict between the traditional conservatives of the industrial-financial centers of the Northeast and the Progressive reformers of the Middle West and West broke wide open. Theodore Roosevelt, after failing to capture the GOP nomination from President William Howard Taft, ran as a candidate of the Progressive party. Roosevelt split the Republican vote and actually outpolled Taft in popular votes (27.4 percent to 23.2 percent). This division permitted a brief Democratic interlude under Wilson. After World War 1, the fire was out of the progressive movement and Americans yearned for normalcy. In this postwar atmosphere, the Republicans asserted their dominance with impressive victories in 1920, 1924, and 1928. Although the Republicans won the election of 1928, the election returns gave evidence of expanding Democratic strength. The Democratic percentage of the popular vote jumped from 28.8 in 1924 to 40.8 in 1928, and the party's presidential ticket carried Massachusetts and Rhode Island, an indication of its approval to voters in Catholic, urban, and industrial centers. Democratic support was thus developing in the growing metropolitan and manufacturing centers, while the GOP tended to be dominant in northern and eastern rural precincts.
The Fourth Party System was an era of diminished interparty competition. In the seven presidential elections after 1896, the average Republican share of the national two party vote was 57.7 percent, while the Democrats received 42.3 percent. In four of these elections the gap between the Republican and Democratic vote exceeded ten percentage points-the usual definition of a landslide. This was in sharp contrast to the evenness of competition between 1876 and 1896, when in 1880, 1884, and 1892, less than one percentage point separated the two parties' share of the popular vote for president. The post-1 896 lack of competitiveness was also reflected in state elections. Regional voting patterns were sharply differentiated. The South, especially after the disenfranchisement of blacks via devices like the poll tax and white primary, became even more overwhelmingly Democratic. In the rest of the nation, however, the Republicans were dominant. In 22 states of the North and West, the Republicans received more than 60 percent of the vote on average in the presidential elections from 1896 to 1928.
The Progressive reform movement of this period had a profound impact on American parties, even though the progressives never succeeded in forming a major party. It was during the Fourth Party System era that the direct primary was instituted as the principal method of nominating candidates. The primary weakened the capacity of parties to control the nominating process and enabled candidates to make direct appeals to the voters. The presidential primary was also born in this period. Another major change in the legal environment of parties was the imposition of governmental regulation, primarily by the states. Primary laws frequently regulated party organizational structure, and campaign finance was also brought within the purview of the law. Parties became quasi public agencies subject to legislative control.
The Fifth Party System, 1932-?: The Democratic New Deal Era and Beyond
President Herbert Hoover had been in office less than a year when the stock market crash signaled the beginning of the Great Depression of the 1930s. The election of 1932 was a major benchmark in American political history. It marked a realignment of the electorate from a Republican to a Democratic majority. The New Deal coalition that supported Franklin D. Roosevelt was formed. Like the old Republican coalition, the new Democratic majority was an amalgam of disparate and sometimes conflicting elements. White southerners, still wedded to the cause of white supremacy, were a core group, as were Catholic urban workers, mostly recent immigrant stock from eastern and southern Europe, who had been socialized to political life by the urban political machines. These Catholic voters had also been drawn to the Democratic banner by the anti prohibitionist candidacy of a coreligionist, Governor Al Smith of New York, in 1928. Blue collar workers, especially organized labor, rallied to support Roosevelt in the face of ris
ing unemployment. Blacks forsook the party of Lincoln to back the Democrats, since the already economically depressed black society was severely rocked by the Depression. Jews, who heretofore had been predominantly Republican, also became identified with the Democratic party because of the Depression and Roosevelt's leadership against Nazi Germany. In addition, young people entering the ranks of the electorate in the 1930s and 1940s became Democrats. The Democrats were riding a wave of demographic change. Urban ethnics, Catholics, blue collar workers, and blacks were becoming a more and more significant proportion of the electorate; while the traditional Republican base of white Protestants, small town residents, farmers, and middle class businessmen constituted a shrinking share of the population.
Franklin Roosevelt's election and his New Deal social welfare policies, which instituted an American version of the welfare state, had long run weakening consequences for the traditional, patronage based, urban party organizations. New social insurance programs (like Social Security and unemployment compensation) were effectively insulated from patronage-type politics and served as models for later federal grant-in-aid programs that emphasized professionalism in state and local government. The New Deal social welfare programs not only weakened the patronage base of the machines, they also took from the machines their traditional function of providing welfare services to the deprived urban populations.
The New Deal Democratic electoral coalition forged by Roosevelt proved to be an enduring alliance. Between 1932 and 1948, the Democrats won the White House all five times and only lost control of the Congress once in 1946. Divisions within the dominant coalition, however, appeared as early as the late 1930s when conservative southern Democratic representatives and senators began to dissent from Roosevelt's social welfare policies. The North-South split within the party became even more pronounced after 1948 and into the 1960s when northern Democratic leaders like Senator Hubert Humphrey (Minn.) led the party into taking a strong stand on civil rights issues.
Throughout the period since the 1930s, the Republican party has remained the minority party. At least twice after electoral disasters in 1936 and 1964, it was written off by political commentators as terminally ill. Its obituaries were prepared prematurely, however, because each time the party staged a timely comeback demonstrating the resiliency of two party competition in the United States. In 1952, Republicans used a strategy long favored by minority parties to help them win the presidency and Congress. Like the Whigs of 1840 and 1848, the GOP nominated a national hero, General Dwight D. Eisenhower, the charismatic commander of Allied forces in Europe during World War 11. Running on the slogan "I like Ike," the Republicans made major inroads into all elements of the New Deal coalition, while holding the traditional Republican vote. Particularly noteworthy was Eisenhower's support in the heretofore solidly Democratic South, where he carried such states of the old Confederacy as Virginia, Texas, Florida, and Tennessee. The Eisenhower years proved to be
a period of consolidation in American politics. The new Republican administration and Congress did not move to repeal the policies of the New Deal. Rather, they accepted the New Deal programs and made only minor modifications. With this Republican acceptance, the Roosevelt New Deal legacy ceased to be the divisive force in American politics that it had been. One of Eisenhower's Republican successors, Ronald Reagan, could even be heard praising and quoting Roosevelt in the 1980s.
Running on a theme of "Peace and Prosperity," Eisenhower swept to an even more overwhelming victory in 1956. The election, however, confirmed the continuing minority status of the GOP, which lost seats in the House and Senate despite the landslide election of the President. The normal Democratic majority reassured itself in 1960 and 1964 with the elections of John E Kennedy and Lyndon B. Johnson. The huge congressional majorities with Johnson carried into office with him in 1964 enabled the party to enact his Great Society programs-a massive expansion of social welfare assistance, which was carried out largely through extensive grant-in-aid programs to state and local governments. Since their landslide win of 1964, however, the divisions within the Democratic party have intensified as the party has split over such issues as race relations, the Vietnam war, defense policy, crime and civil disorder, and social policy.
Many observers believe that starting in the mid 1960s America entered the post-New Deal era. The electoral alignments of the 1930s were still visible, but they were much less pronounced than in the past. Americans showed a marked tendency to be less influenced by party appeals. Party identification among the voters declined, especially among young people. Voters were more inclined to split their tickets between the two parties as party affiliation had diminished influence on voter choice. The class based distinctions between supporters of the two parties diminished as the Democrats competed more evenly with the GOP for the votes of middle class, professional, and business people. At the same time, the Republican vote among blue collar workers and even members of organized labor increased. And Republicans actually carried the white Catholic vote in 1980, 1984, and 1988. The electorate had become less predictable and capable of mobilization by either party. It was a highly volatile electorate subject to wide swings of sentiment from election to election.
This post-New Deal period has been a period of keen competition between the Republicans and Democrats for the presidency. In the eleven post-World War II elections between 1948 and 1992 the GOP has won seven times and the Democrats five. Republican presidential election successes-Richard Nixon's elections in 1968 and 1972 and the Ronald Reagan/George Bush victories of 1980, 1984, and 1988-plus GOP gains among socioeconomic groups traditionally supportive of the Democratic party even prompted speculation about the possibility of the country's entering a new Republican era. However, the Republicans' failure to gain control of Congress over the forty years between 1954 and 1994, plus Democratic dominance of most governorships and state legislatures, caused informed observers to discount the notion that the Republicans were
7.2 "The Party Battle in America" (1996) 85
becoming the dominant party. This skepticism was reinforced when voters broke the GOP's twelve-year hold on the presidency in 1992 by electing Bill Clinton. However, as the Republicans swept the 1994 midterm elections, winning control of Congress and a majority of the governorships, there was renewed speculation about whether or not the country was entering a new political era.
Analyses of election
returns from the 1980s and mid I 990s reveal that the alignment of voters
has changed since the 1930s when the New Deal coalition was assembled.
White southerners, once a core Democratic support group, are becoming increasingly
Republican. Catholics, and to a lesser degree blue collar workers, are
showing greater susceptibility to Republican appeals. At the same time,
black and Hispanic voters have become an increasingly important element
of the Democratic party. But these shifts in the voting patterns of major
socioeconomic groups have not created a clear majority party in the United
States. Indeed, predicting the likelihood of the Democrats, Republicans,
or even a third party movement achieving majority status is extremely hazardous
in the present political environment. The Fifth American Party System is
in a seeming state of disarray and no clearly defined Sixth Party System
is on the horizon. America's party system of the 1990s is characterized
by electoral dealignment-voters whose party loyalty is much weaker than
it was from 1952 through 1964. This weakening of partisan attachments has
introduced an element of volatility-massive swings of party support from
election to election in to American politics. For example, weakened party
loyalties account for Ross Perot's capturing 19 percent of the vote in
1992 and the dramatic drop in voter support for the major parties. And
to the extent that dealignment continues-and there are no signs of its
imminent decline neither the Republicans nor Democrats can be confident
of their hold on the voters or of their ability to win control of the government.
Thus the Democrats led by Bill Clinton regained control of both the presidency
and Congress in the 1992 elections, only to lose their House and Senate
majorities two years later when not a single Republican incumbent was defeated
and the Democrats sustained massive losses.